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Two pies were baked at the same time, in the same oven, on the same cookie sheet. They seemed to be equally close to the center of the oven. There was a third pie on the rack beneath them. That pie was pretty much in the center of the oven, also on a cookie sheet. After baking the same amount of time several people who sampled both pies all noted that the tastes were different. How could this be? The filling came from the same mixing bowl. The filling was ladled in, not poured, and when filling the two crusts I ladled in alternately so I do not think there was a difference in the composition of the filling going into the pies before baking.

The filling was a melange and it was meant for the flavors to blend but still be recognizable individually or notable as undertones. Everyone had the same comments; one pie had flavors which seemed "crisper", more "distinct", and more "alive". The flavor combination in the other pie seemed more "muddy" and "muddled". The only difference I am aware of is the pie crusts. Each crust was a crumb crust made from Sweetzel's Spice Wafers crushed with a rolling pin (If you're not from Philly the closest thing to compare to is a ginger snap) and combined with melted margarine, orange and pineapple juice, and vanilla and baked at 325 for 10 minutes.

For Pie A (the "crisper", more "alive" flavor) the crust slumped on the sides and puffed a bit while baking. So when I made the crust for Pie B I added more crumbs to the mixture and after pressing the mixture into place in the pie tin I placed another pie tin filled with water inside it to try to keep the crust from slumping/puffing while it baked. I left that inner pie tin in place after baking and during cooling while I prepared the filling. The filling is largely from the pumpkin pie recipe on the canned pumpkin label (Libby's I think). The changes are no sugar is added but rather orange-pineapple juice is substituted at 1/2 the volume. Also added are mashed bananas, mashed canned sweet potatoes, raisins, and minute tapioca.

When it came time to ladle the filling mixture in the baked crusts I observed that crust B was definitely moister than A, I presume because the inner pie tin prevented it from drying as much during baking and cooling. Crust A obviously had a longer cooling time and didn't extend as far up the sides of the pie tin (though I certainly think B's cooling time was adequate).

Other than the above I can think of no differences in the two pies and I am not at all clear how even those differences could account for differences in the quality of the flavor that were consistently noted by multiple tasters. What is the explanation? This is my first post so please tell me if I've presented this case properly or if more or less is needed.

Because I had more filling left over I ladled the remainder into a store-bought shortbread crust and that could be called Pie C and it baked concurrently on the rack below Pies A and B. Being slightly less full it was removed a few minutes earlier than the other two. Pie C has not been sampled yet but I could provide updates when it is if that will help confirm or refute hypothesis testing.

I appreciate the thoughts and help from the community on this.

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3 Answers 3

My first thoughts shot back to my junior high school Home Ec teacher who began her first cooking lesson (Basic Biscuits) with an explanation that "baking is science" and the temperatures, mass and volume, state of matter (solid, liquid, gas) of the ingredients, and how you mix, bake, and cool them, as well as the timing of each step, all impact the chemical reactions that determine quality and composition of the baked goods (experimental results.) It's not like a minestrone soup or a casserole. They are forgiving. Throw the ingredients into a pot and it'll be wonderful.

Similarly, I have noted that flavors often change when foods are cooked, baked, allowed to breathe, aged, etc., so why wouldn't pie crust? Even broccoli and cauliflower taste very different when eaten raw vs. steamed vs. well boiled. Their nutritional components change when cooked. They are both very nutritious, with vital nutrients in both the raw and steamed forms, however all of the nutrients are not available for us to metabolize in both states.

What does this imply re. pie crusts?

I suggest that: (1) the exchange of gases in the oven was hampered by the pie "tin" filled with water in Pie B. Off-gases were trapped in Crust B, but released from Crust A into the oven. (2) The liner pie plate limited the volume of oxygen and other gases available for the flavors to bake in. Therefore, Crust B may may not have had access to enough gases in the oven air for the flavors in pie A from coming "alive." Baking didn't just dry out crust A, it catalyzed the chemical reactions to create the flavors. It is a different crust, recipe, and so of course, has a different flavor.

Secondly, the acids in the orange and pineapple juices have strong chemical indications. Citric acid is a folk / natural cleaning product, as are vinegar, salt, baking soda, orange oil, tooth paste, lemons and more. Some work well on copper, brass, silver, aluminum, stainless and tin. Some don't. Some need each other to clean these metals well. Some work well alone. Who knows how they will react chemically when heated and exposed to the cookie ingredients with varying amounts of air? What are the cookie ingredients? What is the composition of each pie pan (...pans A, B, C and the one inside B that was filled with water)?

Pyrex or tempered glass pie "tins" bake hotter, so they need a cooler oven and won't react chemically with the crust/pie.

Food fried and stewed in "tin," aluminum, Teflon-lining, rusty vs cleanly-scoured wrought-iron frying, saute and baking pans will frequently create nutritional (or poisonous,) flavor and food-quality (taste and texture, etc.) variations. Was one of the pans aluminum? It reacts in baking. Might metal or plastic have had an impact?

Does this help?

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Welcome LAMoore! Can you explain "off gases"? Cited sources and links are encouraged too, to help our community members. I've learned A LOT from this site. :-) –  Kristina Lopez Nov 24 '12 at 15:58
    
Good stuff in this reply and it helped break up my train of thinking a bit thanks. I've combined your thoughts with Kristina's below. –  Dr George Waxter Nov 24 '12 at 17:24

After reading your full accounting, the pies were after all, not really identical. My best guess is that the moister pie crust leeched softened crumbs into your pie filling, giving the pie an overall muddier quality. I've had similar experiences with apple pies going muddy from either the thickener not gelling or the crust not holding up to the liquid filling. (Your filling sounds very interesting though! Yum!)

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Between your reply and LAMoore's I've hybridized an answer and I'll expound below. Thank you for the input and the compliment. Yes, I have always gotten rave reviews with this and I call it Sweetie Pie. I keep the quantity of raisins somewhat scant so when you discover one it is a bit like a found treasure. Similarly you can mash the bananas into a puree to give banana flavor as an undernote or leave it a bit lumpier and your eater will occasionally encounter a chunk and experience it in a burst. The idea is that each bite is a somewhat different experience. You can also vary the juices used. –  Dr George Waxter Nov 24 '12 at 17:20

I think between LAMoore and Kristina we have it. The citric acid and other components of the juices persisted in crust B (or were modified in some manner, note that the filling contained the same juices as used to moisten the crumbs). Crust B clearly did not dry as much when baked. Then when the filling was added and the entire pie baked these components migrated upwards into the filling and altered the flavor interactions. Perhaps some component from the spice wafer crumbs was carried along too. I was struggling with the idea that the crust having already been baked could have in any way affected the flavor of the filling. Doubly so since my idea of gravity is that it works downwards and if anything I'd have guessed the filling could alter the crust, not so much vice versa. However I think LAMoore would tell us that through osmosis, Brownian motion, and/or simple diffusion along a gradient chemical components could migrate upwards. When Pie C gets sampled I could give an update. Thanks for this site. While researching I have now learned about egg washes for a crust and pre-baking even the store-bought crusts. It would not have occurred to me to pre-bake those, I thought they would be ready to go.

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